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The wonder years 


After almost six years of releasing 7-inchers and CDs, and tirelessly traveling around the country playing basements and bowling alleys, you'd think Shyster singer-guitarist (and main songwriter) Mike Levin would have had his fill of the punk-rock lifestyle. You would be wrong. With a fresh lineup and a new batch of songs, Shyster's chapter in Orlando's punk-history book is anything but closed.

With Levin always at the core, Shyster was conceived back in May of '93 under the influence of heavy metal, Dead Milkmen, Jawbreaker and Fat Wreck Chords punk. The fiery and typically always-changing-members quartet established itself through a series of demos, albums ("Say Uncle," 1996; "February," 1998) and compilations (including locally produced "Spirit of '99" and "1998 Orlando Music Awards"). And for its live impact, the band has taken the trophy in the Punk category for the last two (and only) Orlando Music Awards. Through it all, Shyster has triumphed where many have failed: longevity.

"A lot of punk bands came and played ... did some stuff. We just always managed to keep playing," says Levin.

And they still do. After the previous lineup parted ways earlier this year, Levin assembled a new group of close friends/local musicians: drummer Micky Michalec (Laughing Boy, Cotton), bassist Chris Sapone (Kosmo Kramers) and guitarist Spanky Daviero (Obliterati). The revamped Shyster is gigging steadily, including a festival with Less Than Jake. The newfound solidarity is emphasized by the fact that -- except for Michalec -- the members all live and practice together at the Shyster compound.

Shyster's new music hasn't yet been captured on record, so the live show is "new to people," says Levin. He classifies the latest material as "amped up -- a lot of it's really poppy, heavier, crazier."

More mellow and spatial is Levin's fledgling post-rock side project Sunday Morning Revival. (Michalec and Daviero are also members.) "It keeps Shyster from being like a job," admits Levin. "It's just about playing in the living room." But that band's been playing out, too.

Still, the Shyster legacy lives on, even as the punk venues disappear, pushing the scene itself into a slump. Another challenge is that Shyster's followers are, well, getting younger.

"It's kind of strange as we get older, playing for kids. There's a certain gap in relating to the crowd," Levin says.

But gap or no gap, the Shyster mission remains the same: "It's always about having a good time, feeling free about what you do."


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More by Mark Padgett

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